Fino del Puerto Lustau in El Del Medio

Had a cracking lunch in “El del Medio” this weekend. Not a sherry destination by a long way – just two on the list – and they seem to view sherry as an aperitif, with just this and the Macarena on the list, but the food was high quality and high fun and this is a terrific fino with lots of personality.

Has that aroma of rockpools that for me really characterizes the finos del puerto: not super aromatic but a punchy noseful. Then has a heavy saline body, plenty of juice and a really fresh finish.

Perfectly decent stuff and went beautifully with artichokes and scallops. The job, as they say, is a good one.

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The wines of Fismuler

Maybe not quite a sherry temple here but I was pleasantly surprised by the list at trendy Madrid eatery Fismuler the other night. The five wines above may not be many in number but they are right up my alley: a quality manzanilla from Delgado Zuleta, the excellent fino del puerto by Gutierrez Colosía, the serially and seriously under-rated Fossi by Primitivo Collantes and a heavyweight palo cortado and amontillado by Williams & Humbert.

And the list didn’t stop there. There was some cracking stuff further down – from el marco Viña Matalian and Tintillas by Vara y Pulgar and Bodegas Forlong – and in general some really good independent winemakers represented all the way down: Clos Lentiscus, Barco de la Corneta, Bodegas Fuentegalana and Ziries, to name just the few we drank.

A quality, well priced and well chosen list. And the food was tasty and the atmosphere lively – no complaints and I will be back for the rest.

The wines of Emilio Hidalgo in Taberna Verdejo

Absolutely top class dinner last night in Taberna Verdejo featuring a lot of laughter some first class cooking and above all three absolutely classic wines from Emilio Hidalgo.

First, with mussels and rubio (sea robin) in escabeche (and in fact even before the food arrived) we started with La Panesa, which is just a class fino. So much power and body, a really buttery mouthful and a no vibrato purity and solidity of flavours. These bottles were from 2016 and the almond and roast almond flavours just had that suggestion of bitterness before the long long finish.

Then another escabeche, this time a rabbit (another of Verdejo’s strengths, small game) and, having exhausted the supply of La Panesa we moved on to the Amontillado Fino Tresillo. And my goodness what an impact this wine makes – such sharpness and elegance, finer in feel than the fino and a touch of dry honey to the almond flavours – almost hazelnut-, all with that sizzling salinity, which comes across much more clearly in this finer profiled wine. Really lovely, really drinkable wine.

And then with the sweetbreads (oh, the sweetbreads) and rabo de toro (stewed bull’s tail) a glass (or two) of the Gobernador oloroso. Another beautifully made wine – packed with acidity and flavor but with excellent crispness and balance. In fact I was struck by the freshness of it – really clean lines.

All three wines were individually superb but also great company for the solid matter, but the less said about the Rives Special Gin from El Puerto that followed the better …

A lunchtime of legends in Maitea Taberna

Two weeks have gone by since an all too brief lunch at Bar Maitea with a barely believable line-up of legendary wines old and new. In fact I still can’t quite believe it.

It all started with a glass of the Manzanilla Madura by Callejuela – a really flavourful manzanilla, from a river-influence pago and with a little bit more time in the bota, it has a bit more breadth on the beam and heft than you might expect but still has that crisp, appetite opening salinity you need to set yourself up for lunch.

That bright start became a really promising beginning when a bottle of the legendary Fino Carta Blanca, by Agustin Blázquez, appeared in front of me on the bar. This is a cult wine, a high class wine from a legendary macharnudo pago and maker, and a clear riposte to those who doubt the longevity of sherries in the bottle (me amongst them, I suppose). I had a 1990s edition in Madrid that just blew my socks off not long ago and this one, apparently from the 1970s, was in that league. Although scarily dark brown in the glass it was nevertheless absolutely intact and compact, a hint of reduction on the nose at first but soon opening up with citrus, bitter almond and old dry straw aromas and a palate that slices its way in with salinity and citrus before hitting you with weighty, salty bitter almond flavours. Really serious stuff and if the juices hadn’t already been flowing they certainly were now.

Next up was Fino Caribe by Bodegas Sancho, again an example from the 1970s and another wine with a serious pedigree. Bodegas Sancho, which like Agustin Blazquez were later acquired by Domecq, were located in el Puerto but sourced this wine from the famous “El Caribe” vineyard in Pago Añina and that combination (and its forty odd year wait to be released from the bottle) created a wine with a really unique character. Clear as a bell and an attractive chestnut colour the nose was extraordinary – like a flat ginger beer, musty but all bitterness gone, and with that rockpool aroma that is so distinctive in el Puerto. Then on the palate the oxidation was noticeable too, sweetness on the start and flavours of praline and soft nougat giving way to an intense bitterness – my notes say “white campari” which almost certainly doesn’t exist but I think you get my drift. (They also say “amarrrrrrgo”.) Long salty finish reminds you again of the rock pool. What an absolutely extraordinary wine.

As the kokotxas arrive for yet another legend, and yet another unique old wine, appears on the bar: Manzanilla Pochola by Domecq. Again a dark chestnut in colour but as clear as a bell, and once it opened up (these bottles were being opened before my very eyes and were a little closed early doors) an aromatic thoroughbred, bitterly floral and herbal. An amazing palate, slipping in with a zing of Sanlúcar salinity but then the breadth and characteristics of pago macharnudo. A “manzanilla de Jerez” if ever there was one.

At this stage the genius behind the bar apparently observed your correspondent struggling to keep up with the historic wines and decided to go with an absolutely beautiful dish of pigs trotters give him a little bit of a breather in the form of the modern/traditional Palo Cortado Viejo C P (Calle Ponce) by Valdespino. In fact it allowed a fascinating comparison of the slightly oxidated macharnudo manzanilla from before with an elegant modern macharnudo palo cortado. Bright, clean and clear amber/chestnut colour and an elegant, quiet nose with buttery notes, nicely integrated salinity and roasted to bitter almonds on the palate fading to burnt caramel flavours. Much deeper and more consistent in its oxidation than those that have earned it in the bottle and tighter in profile. One of the most elegant of the modern palo cortados and a class wine in its own way.

And in case that wasn’t modern enough I was at the same time given a glass of a mysterious whit wine labelled only “FP” (a probable “florpower” prototype) that in the company of all these venerable old legends was like a burst of sunshine on a cloudy day: a nose that was all fresh sweetness and a crisp youthful palate. A really nice fresh wine and one to look forward to!

But then with a fantastic cuajada dressed with honey and pine kernels your man produced another striking old beast and all thoughts of freshness were banished from my mind. The Pedro Ximenez Viña 25 seemed to epitomize for me what an old Jerez pedro ximenez should be all about, its sweetness tempered by a nose of pine forests, a a palate of black coffee/dark chocolate bitterness and an incredibly light, fresh feel to it. Really fine texture and piercing flavour and another excellent match with the sticky, sweet honey of the cuajada.

And just when I thought I was going to make my train with relative ease the final, exceptional treat: a little, very old bottle of Domecq’s Amontillado Botaina. A little cracker that was amber gold in colour – much lighter in colour than the finos – and in absolutely perfect condition, with hay bales and vinegary toffee in the nose and a superb combination of zing, acidity and sapidity on the palate. Absolutely superb, and there were tears in my eyes as I swigged it down and headed out, dazed and a little awed, in search of a taxi.

As I said on the day, one of those lunches I will always remember and never be able to repay. An honour and a privilege.

Tio Pepe en Rama 2016 in the Taberna de Pedro

The Taberna de Pedro is a cracking spot to restock on vitamins: tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes, peas, runner beans, green beans, borage, chard, peppers, mange tout, all of the above (menestra), pisto (con dos huevos) – the man is a genius with the green stuff (and if you are short of vitamin C the callos are outstanding).

All cracking sources of nutrition but notoriously tricky pairings, so a nice glass of fino like this one goes down a treat. Topical too – just this week I think they released the new edition of this classic fino.

I haven’t seen that new one yet but this will do. Yeasty, bready and nutty nose, juicy, bity bitter almond palate and a lingering finish.

Very enjoyable.

Zalamero Taberna

Was invited to a very special lunch, and occasion yesterday: a preview of Zalamero Taberna, the fantastic new project of the remarkable Ana Losada and her band of merry men.

The people behind this project – Ana, David, Fernando and Carlos – are absolutely top drawer and I was so delighted to see them back in action after far too long (since September 2016 and a tearful end of an era) that that alone would have made it a great day. But I can tell you that there is every reason to be excited even if you don’t already know Ana and the crew.

Zalamero Taberna is at Narvaez 67 and despite the 3km between my office and their door there will be a path worn into the pavement before long. It has a menu of some 20 odd cracking dishes – yesterday we managed to get into 11 of them – cecina de león con pan de cristal tostado, ensaladilla con alcaparras fritas, boquerón crujiente al limon, mejillones al curry tailandesa (beautifully paired with a Rey Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado), tortilla esparragada de morcilla patatera, caballa ahumada, bacalao rebozado con Samfaina, arroz meloso con pato, un riquísimo guiso de garbanzos y morro (again a cracking pairing, the Oloroso Gobernador by Emilio Hidalgo), cochinillo deshuesado and an absolutely delicious, light and delightful torrija (with the obligatory Pedro Ximenez, this time by Ximenez Spinola).

They were all superb, tasty, fun, and beautifully presented, and as you would expect given the individuals involved they were accompanied by some superb and really interesting wines: in addition to the sherry action mentioned above there was Blanc des Blancs (Suenen) and classic wines from Bierzo (Corullon, no less), Cortijo de los Aguilares, Utiel y Requena, and I am pretty sure I am forgetting at least a couple more. Really thoughtful pairings – contrasts and matches and a lovely sequence – in particular the three reds were expressive and had different personalities, the contrasts between them only making them more enjoyable.

Excellent food, excellent wines, beautifully presented in a really bright, welcoming little bistro. I am not the man for critique of decoration but the ambience – convivial as it was – was spot on, the table was unfussy and the seats were probably the most comfortable I have had in a restaurant in Madrid. And of course the service was of the very highest order. There were a lot of smiles yesterday but also a fair few nerves – and we were later told that mistakes had been made. (All I can say is that if mistakes were made I would like to see perfection.)

They will open next week and I can’t wait for them to do so – just over half the menu left to try and I haven’t even started on the wine list yet. Yesterday’s was a meal that I will remember for a long, long time, but I don’t plan to leave it long before going back. See you Tuesday night!

La Taberna de Pedro (and the Restaurante Vinoteca Garcia de la Navarra)

As I write this I should declare that Pedro, Luis and the guys at la Taberna de Pedro (and the Restaurante Vinoteca Garcia de la Navarra) are friends of mine. For years my apartment was six floors and eleven metres from their door, and for well over a decade the Taberna, in all its forms, has been one of my happiest places. So this is not an absolutely objective appraisal. But I assure you that every word is true.

First, the food is outstanding. The hallmark of Pedro is taking top quality produce and preparing it beautifully. And while most people talk about “produce” they are thinking top end, whereas for Pedro the obsession is from top to bottom, whether it is the mature and aged steaks and the outstanding fish and assorted sea creatures he proudly posts on facebook, to the chard, borage, tiny “teardrop” peas, artichokes, and runner beans that he cooks like no-one else I know. His pisto is outstanding (and I don’t say that just because I get given an extra egg) and his menestra is the best in Madrid but his callos and, above all, the lengua (veal’s tongue) are special. There is also great variety – the stuff that is off menu is always worth trying if you can (and I say if you can because on more than one occasion my order has been overruled by Pedro in the kitchen). Yesterday we had the chard, runner beans with scallops, pochas and callos and I could not fault any one of them.

Second, the wine list is equally top class. In fact yesterday was the first time I have seen the wine list in years – I nearly always take the recommendations of Luis – but just behold the magnificent two volume, 90 odd page effort, with no fewer than 45 sherries by the glass (and rancios and dorados de rueda for the fashion conscious). With yesterday’s callos we had the mighty Villapanés, but there are a number of wines on that list that I am going to have to come back for. There is no doubt, if it weren’t for the thousands of other wines, this place would be famous for its sherries.

And there are thousands of other wines – it is a staggeringly varied list with wines from all over Spain and around the world, verticals and classic old vintages, frankly everything the most demanding winelover could desire, kept up to date by the sommelier’s sommelier – Luis. The man is an absolute legend and excels at finding great value wines in accesible styles that you probably haven’t heard of, but even more impressively he seems oblivious to the crazes, fashions and trends and if he thinks the wine is right he will recommend something you had forgotten about and written off years ago.

The guys split their time between the two locales but if you want to be close to Pedro you should aim for the Taberna, whereas if you want the fully immersive Luis experience you want the Restaurante Vinoteca. By long tradition I am a more frequent visitor to the Taberna – I have known some of the staff there since they were teenagers after all – but Luis seems to have forgiven me so far (although he does make a point of mentioning it).

And that would be my final word. These are two top restaurants run by two brothers, each of them great guys and outstanding in their fields, that draw you in and make you feel part of the family. At least they did to me.

Don Pedro, Don Luis, see you on Monday!